Ochre and dreaming

AS NAIDOC week approaches, it’s the perfect time to check out a selection of exquisite Warlpiri artwork on display at Japingka Gallery in Freo.

Most of the artists live in the small community of Yuendumu, a town of roughly 1000 residents in the heartland of the ochre-coloured landscape of the Tanami Desert in the NT.

The artwork reflects a selection of dreaming stories – called Jukurrpa –  that are handed down from generation to generation.

“There are 15 major dreaming stories,” curator David Wroth told the Herald.

“Families are the custodians of their own dreaming stories and some common ones include Emu Dreaming, Water Dreaming and Seven Sisters Dreaming.”

While Warlpiri artists traditionally used earthy colours to depict their stories, in recent times they have become more experimental.

• Steven Jupurrurla Nelson’s Brush-tailed Possum

“They are expressing their dreaming stories in new and exciting ways and their colour palette is becoming more diverse,” Mr Wroth said.

“They are experimenting with more abstract ways of telling their stories.”

Artist Steven Jupurrurla Nelson, whose painting appears at the exhibition, has embraced this more abstract mode of painting, using a huge squiggle that represents the swift movements of the brush-tail possum.

The Yuendumu painting movement began in the 1980s and the first works appeared on the doors of the local school.

Community elders saw artwork as a way to reconnect current and future generations with their culture and dreaming stories.

“[The elders] could see their children were being taught whitefella ways and wanted to make sure the kids had something to remind them of their cultural heritage,” a brochure on the exhibition reads.

“So they painted their dreaming stories, the Jukurrpa, on the doors of the school.”

Mr Roth credits the association’s success to good management and an ability to share knowledge and skills over the generations.

‘Land and Sky’, runs until July 11 at Japinghka Gallery, 47 High Street Fremantle. 

by WADE ZAGLAS

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